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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay's defensive line sorely missed starting right defensive end Stylez G. White in Miami on Sunday. White missed the Bucs' contest in Miami with a shoulder injury. He was replaced in the starting lineup by backup DE Tim Crowder, who performed well, but was part of a Bucs defensive line that didn't get enough pressure on Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne and allowed some big running plays.
On a third-and-9 play on Miami's third drive of the game, Crowder rushed from the left end position and hit Henne as he attempted to throw a pass to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., causing an incompletion. Early in the fourth quarter, Crowder did a nice job of flowing with Henne on a bootleg and deflecting his pass attempt to force an incompletion. Crowder finished the game with just one tackle, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup.
Miami rushed the ball 36 times for 199 yards (5.5 avg.) and one touchdown, but one wouldn't have known it based on the stat sheet. Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan led Tampa Bay's D-line with just three tackles. Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson did not have one of his better outings as a pass rusher and finished the game with just two tackles.
Bucs DT Ryan Sims had just one tackle, but it was the tackle he didn't make that made the biggest impact in Miami's 25-23 win over Tampa Bay. Dolphins running back Ricky Williams ripped off a 27-yard run to the Bucs' seven-yard line late in the fourth quarter. On that play, Sims had a chance to tackle Williams near the line of scrimmage, but didn't. As a result, the Dolphins kicked the game-winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the contest, capping off a drive that started at Miami's 16-yard line with 1:10 remaining in the game.
In addition to allowing Miami to rush for nearly 200 yards Sunday, Tampa Bay's defense generated zero sacks and just two quarterback hurries, one of which was notched by a D-lineman.
LINEBACKERS The Bucs had some mixed results against the Dolphins' Wildcat attack, and this group was part of the reason why Miami was able to have so much success running the football vs. Tampa Bay.
On Miami's first offensive possession of the game, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown broke tackles from Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli and linebacker Quincy Black en route to a 45-yard run to Tampa Bay's 16-yard line. The Dolphins eventually capped off the nine-play, 77-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from Brown to go up 6-0. But Black redeemed himself late in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass intended for Dolphins wide receiver Brad Hartline near the sideline. That gave the Bucs, who trailed the Dolphins at that point, the ball on Miami's 26-yard line. Black's great play on the errant pass thrown by Henne eventually led to Bucs RB Cadillac Williams' 1-yard run for a touchdown, which put Tampa Bay up 23-22 with 1:14 remaining in the game. Black finished the game with seven tackles and one interception. His backup, Bucs LB Adam Hayward, notched two tackles in limited action.
The Bucs had a few other impressive stops on defense. On Miami's third drive of the game, Henne pitched the ball to Brown, who threw the ball back to Henne for what could have been a big play had it not been for Bucs LB Geno Hayes, who took down Henne as he attempted to throw the ball, forcing an incompletion. Late in the fourth quarter, Hayes was called for pass interference on tight end Joey Haynos on Miami's game-winning drive, which gave the Dolphins a first down. Hayes was extremely active vs. the run and pass Sunday. He finished the contest with seven tackles and one quarterback pressure.
Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud came up big on a third-and-4 run play midway through the second quarter when he stopped Williams in his tracks to force Miami to settle for a 49-yard field goal, which capped off a 12-play, 43-yard drive. However, Ruud wasn't as sharp in pass coverage. With 1:25 remaining in the first half, Ruud allowed Dolphins TE Kory Sperry to haul in a 5-yard touchdown across the back of the end zone for a score, which capped off a two-play, 15-yard drive after a Bucs turnover. Early in the third quarter, Ruud did a great job defending a short dump off to Williams to set up third-and-15. The Dolphins went on to punt. Late in the fourth quarter on third-and-4, Ruud stuffed Williams on a run attempt for a loss, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a 40-yard field goal to go up 22-16. That score capped off an eight-play, 45-yard drive. Tampa Bay's defense was impressive on third downs, allowing Miami to convert just 36 percent of them Sunday.
Brown, who left the game in the second half with an ankle injury, carried the ball 20 times for 102 yards (5.1 avg.) and one touchdown. He also had two catches for 16 yards. However, Williams had success playing in place of Brown. After rushing for 13 yards on seven carries in the first half, Williams finished the game with 12 carries for 82 yards (6.8 avg.), including his 27-yard run to help set up Miami's game-winning field goal.
SECONDARY The Dolphins attempted to stretch the field more than most expected vs. the Bucs. While Tampa Bay did a good job of defending the deep ball, its defense didn't play well enough at the end of each half, which allowed Miami QB Chad Henne and Co. to have success.
On the first play of Miami's opening possession, Henne attempted a play-action pass deep down the left seam to WR Ted Ginn Jr., who dropped the pass with Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber in close coverage. Early in the second quarter, Barber showed impressive containment by tackling Williams on a run play for a 5-yard loss. Henne attempted to test Barber deep again early in the fourth quarter, but Barber once again showed impressive coverage in the one-on-one situation, forcing an incompletion on the ball intended for Ginn Jr. But on the ensuing play Barber was called for a 15-yard personal foul facemask penalty on WR Devone Bess, who had four catches for 72 yards vs. Tampa Bay. Most of his production came at the each of each half. On a third down play on the same drive, Barber was called for illegal contact on an incompletion, which gave the Dolphins an automatic first down. Luckily for Barber, those penalties didn't lead to points as Miami eventually punted. Barber notched four tackles and one tackle for a loss on Sunday.
Miami WR Greg Camarillo gave Tampa Bay's defense fits in the first half, especially on third down. On a third-and-7 play on the opening drive, Henne completed a 9-yard pass to Camarillo for the first down with Bucs CB Aqib Talib in coverage. On the same drive, Camarillo delivered another 9-yard reception on third down, this time giving the Dolphins the ball at the 1-yard line. Bucs CB Torrie Cox was in coverage on the play. Miami capped off the drive with a 1-yard run by Brown to go up 6-0. Talib finished the game with five tackles and a pass defensed. Camarillo was held in check in the second half and finished the contest with two receptions.
Bad tackling contributed to some of Miami's success via the ground game. On the first possession of the game, Brown broke off a 45-yard run thanks to two missed tackles, including a whiff in the offensive backfield by Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli. Talib made the touchdown-saving tackle on the play, but the Dolphins eventually scored a TD to end the possession, capping off a nine-play, 77-yard drive. Piscitelli continued to struggle in the first half, allowing Henne to complete a 17-yard pass to WR Brad Hartline on a third-and-15 play across the middle of the field. The Dolphins eventually settled for a 49-yard field goal to end that drive. Late in the first half, Henne completed a pass to WR Davone Bess for a 16-yard gain at Tampa Bay's 12-yard line. Piscitelli was late coming over to defend the play, which allowed the Dolphins to kick a 30-yard field goal, capping off a six-play, 40-yard drive. Miami led at halftime, 19-6. Piscitelli had another missed tackle on a 19-yard run to Tampa Bay's 46-yard line in the third quarter. However, on the next play, Piscitelli tackled Brown on a 9-yard run and forced him to fumble, which allowed Bucs S Tanard Jackson to recover and give the offense the ball at their own 35-yard line. Not only did he force the turnover, Piscitelli knocked Brown out of the game with an ankle injury. He did not return. Jackson and Piscitelli were Tampa Bay's leading tacklers with nine apiece.
Miami's offense produced 374 yards vs. Tampa Bay. Henne completed 17-of-31 of his passes for 175 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. While he completed just 54.8 percent of his passes, Henne picked apart Tampa Bay's defense on scoring drives late in the first half and second half, making it look easy at times.
SPECIAL TEAMS Tampa Bay received a big boost from its special teams unit for the second straight week.
Bucs running back Clifton Smith helped set the tone on the opening kickoff by breaking a tackle and returning the ball 36 yards to Tampa Bay's 46-yard line. He averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return on six attempts and 7.8 yards per punt return on four tries.
New Bucs kicker Connor Barth displayed a strong and accurate leg in Miami, making field goals from 51 and 50 yards out in the first half. In the third quarter, Barth continued to impress, drilling a 54-yard field goal to make the score 19-9 in favor of the Dolphins. Barth became the first player in the history of the franchise to make three field goals from 50-plus yards out in one game. His kickoffs were excellent as well.
Tampa Bay tackle Donald Penn blocked Miami's extra point attempt after the Dolphins' first touchdown of the game, keeping the score at 6-3. That play proved to be huge after the Bucs took a 23-22 lead late in the fourth quarter before the Dolphins pulled off the game-winning drive with 1:10 remaining in the game.
Bucs rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller was for illegal block in the back on Smith's punt return late in first half. That penalty set the Bucs offense up at their own 4-yard line, which proved to be costly when the offense turned the ball over a few plays later, setting up a Dolphins touchdown.
Punter Dirk Johnson averaged 40.4 yards per attempt on five tries with a long of 54 and one of his punts pinned inside the 20-yard line.
Tampa Bay's coverage units did an excellent job containing Miami WR Ted Ginn Jr.. He averaged just 18.0 yards per attempt on five opportunities. The Dolphins also averaged just 1.0 yard per punt return.
Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox and linebacker Quincy Black led the way with two special teams tackles apiece.
COACHING Bucs head coach Raheem Morris didn't follow his own philosophy of not riding the emotional rollercoaster when he was called for unsportsmanlike like conduct (15-yard penalty) with 1:38 remaining in the first half after a controversial call. While that penalty helped lead to the Dolphins scoring a touchdown on the 8-yard drive, it's difficult to take issue with Morris' gripe after the officials ruled that WR Michael Clayton fumbled the football. Clayton clearly caught the football, but replay didn't show that he retained possession while going to the ground, although it is likely he did. Unfortunately the camera angles didn't do the Bucs any favors on that play, which proved to be big in Tampa Bay's 25-23 loss to Miami.
Despite that call not going Tampa Bay's way, the Bucs still had a chance to win this game. The team led the Dolphins 23-22 with 1:10 remaining and Miami starting its final possession on its own 16-yard line. But Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates' unit completely collapsed, allowing the Dolphins to drive 77 yards in five plays in 1:04 to kick a 25-yard game-winning field goal with just 10 seconds remaining in the contest. Tampa Bay's front four had failed to sustain an effective pass rush on Henne all game long, yet Bates opted not to blitz Miami's quarterback on the final drive of the game. As a result, Henne picked apart the Bucs at the end of the second and fourth quarters.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson's game plan appeared to be too conservative at the start of Sunday's game, but his play calling really opened in the second half when the Bucs trailed the Dolphins. He also stuck with the running game when it was struggling to find success early on. Olson's play calling in the third and fourth quarter allowed rookie quarterback Josh Freeman to make plays and nearly pull off his second straight come-from-behind victory in as many starts in the NFL.
Tampa Bay special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia deserves a lot of credit for his unit's game plan and execution vs. Miami. His kicker made all three of his attempts from 50-plus yards out, and his coverage units did a great job of containing one of the best return men in the league.